Buying Online

As far as I’m concerned, the brick-and-mortar store is a dinosaur waiting to become extinct. I have been a mail order shopper since I was a kid. There’s just something magical about getting packages in the mail. And with the advent of the internet, my mail order shopping — now called online shopping — has dramatically increased.

I regularly buy the following online: books, music, clothes, shoes, paper, pencils, pens, ink, tea, special food items, cat food, cat litter, soap, razor blades, vitamins, toothbrushes, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

My wife buys most of her art supplies online, as well as toys for her grandkids.

Shopping online is my kind of heaven and I can’t wait for the day when I can do all of my grocery shopping online.

Being a reader — and a book buyer — my decision to buy online is of importance to brick-and-mortar bookstores and traditional publishers, both the corporate giants and the small press. Why? Because 63% of traditionally published adult fiction was bought online in the US in 2016. And the trend isn’t reversing. (Data from authorearnings.com)

That means trouble for physical bookstores which is where traditional publishing has for over a century done business. It also spells trouble for traditional publishing companies because their traditional sales outlets are disappearing.

Many of you are aware of the Amazon-Hachette fracas. As physical bookstores disappear and more and more print books are sold online, the online stores — we’re really talking Amazon here — are going to have more and more clout. And while Hachette got more or less its way this time, I doubt Amazon will be so nice in the future.

But that’s not all, traditional publishing is tied to the physical book. Yet last year in the US, 70% of fiction sales were digital. That’s ebooks and audiobooks. And when we add in that 42% of all adult fiction was non-traditionally published in 2016, the way the book business has done business is fast becoming a thing of the past. (Data from authorearnings.com)

Non-traditional publishing consists of indie author/publishers and Amazon. Yes, Amazon. The mega-giant is setting itself up as a publisher. To date, Amazon has 17 imprints. They regularly recruit authors to publish through them and offer those authors, generally speaking, contracts which are far less draconian than those of traditional publishers. It truly is time to beware the beast.

Why do I buy online? Because it’s easy, and I like getting packages in the mail. I have, quite literally, the entire world from which to choose whatever I want to buy. Can’t quite say that when I go to the local shopping mall. Plus I have to drive there.

I am, though, concerned about my online shopping. Mainly because it feeds the mega-giant Amazon. The Zon makes online shopping so easy, it’s difficult not to buy from them. It takes a conscious effort to not buy from the Zon. And I have to admit, I’m rather lazy about exerting that effort.

Recently I did buy a pair of jeans from The Duluth Trading Company. Excellent service and product, by the way. And I bought a pair from Lands’ End. Again, excellent service and the product was very good. Zappos is another fine online store.

I buy pens and ink from small online retailers such as Jet Pens. chewy.com is an excellent online source of pet food and supplies.

Nevertheless, the Zon is the 800 pound gorilla on the block and it takes much diligence to avoid the beast. And quite honestly, there are times when I’m just too lazy.

For indie authors, I think we already know where the future lies. It lies in ebooks and audiobooks. Print books aren’t necessarily a thing of the past, but as we baby boomers die off and generations take over who grew up in a digital world — the paper book will become a specialty item. Akin to handmade paper, or handmade wooden kitchen utensils, or custom made shirts.

The only real question facing indie authors is how much clout are we going to give Amazon? Are we going to invest our futures to the Zon? Or are we going to support competing enterprises, such as Apple, Kobo, or Scribd, or Findaway Voices (an ACX alternative, available through Draft2Digital).

Because if we indies tie ourselves to Amazon’s shirttail, then we have to go where they go — and what happens when they stick it to us, as the traditional publishers did so very many, many decades ago? Then where will we go?

A very difficult decision. Very difficult.

As an online buyer, I need to ensure that I don’t help create a monopoly that will in the end bite me. I must diversify my purchases. So fellow online buyers, lets not feed the Zon. Let’s put it on a diet.

As indie authors, let’s seriously consider a publishing world where the only distributor is Amazon. I know that isn’t a nightmare I’m willing to have.

Comments are always welcome! And, until next time, happy reading!

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Horror, Weird Fiction, or Dark Fantasy?

I will be launching a new series, probably in the new year. I have the first three books written and am in the editorial process.

Ever since I conceived of the series, I’ve been scratching my head as to what to label it. My inspiration came from The X-Files, Stranger Things, Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files series, and HP Lovecraft (both his Cthulhu Mythos and non-Mythos stories). The series draws on the quasi-scientific, supernatural, and paranormal. There be monsters here! As well as psychological elements of fear and terror.

So what exactly am I writing? Is it horror fiction? Or weird fiction? Or dark fantasy? Maybe it’s dark speculative fiction. Or perhaps it’s simply paranormal fiction.

For the series title I chose the word “paranormal”. Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations. Mostly because “paranormal” anything is hot right now. But as noted above, like The X-Files, Pierce Mostyn investigates the quasi-scientific, the pseudo-scientific, as well as the supernatural and paranormal. Anything that is weird and might be a threat to the good people of the United States of America. See my dilemma?

My old Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines horror as “the strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking; shuddering fear and disgust; terror and repugnance.” Therefore, a horror story is one that would induce fear, terror, disgust, repugnance, or shock.

Weird, on the other hand, is “suggestive of ghosts, evil spirits, or other supernatural things; unearthly, mysterious, eerie, etc.” The dictionary goes on to say “weird applies to that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.” Weird fiction, then, would be fiction that induces a more general feeling of fear or uneasiness. A story that leaves one with an unidentifiable feeling of dread. Although one reviewer on Amazon was of the opinion that weird fiction puts the protagonist into a situation where no choice he or she can make is a good choice. If that is the case, then to my mind weird fiction sidles very close to horror.

Dark means “hidden; secret; not easily understood; obscure; evil; sinister.” So dark fantasy would be fantasy that explores the hidden, secret, evil, or the sinister. And could easily leave the reader with a feeling of dread. Identifiable or not.

The Pierce Mostyn series might induce fear in some, and certainly deals with those things that are hidden, secret, evil, or sinister. The series also explores that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.

I suppose it all comes down to what’s my primary intent with the stories. My guess is I’m probably going more for the weird impact than anything else. But then again, each story might be different. Certainly that was the case with The X-Files, or Night Gallery before that, and The Twilight Zone before that.

Any suggestions will be very much appreciated. Please leave them in the comments.

My Interview

On a separate note, my interview with fellow author Andy Graham went live on Thursday, September 7. You can find it at One Book Interviews. The interview was fun and challenging. Trying to find just one book for each of Andy’s questions. Just one. Difficult, a bit of soul searching, and yet fun, because I got to revisit lots of great books in my mind. And put a few on the reread list!

Please, do check out the interview. And while you’re there, take a look around Andy’s site.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

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Slow

If you look at just about any book ad or Amazon genre page, the words that most often jump out at you are “fast paced” and “thriller”. Or you might find phrases like, “the pages turn themselves”. Or subtitles packed with the words, “gripping”, “shocking”, “thrilling”.

As a reader, it seems to me, writers are hellbent on jacking up my blood pressure and giving me cardiac arrest. The scribblers are doing their best to push frenetically paced everything down my throat. Can’t wait to get my copy of the new gripping, thrill-packed, and shocking edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, where the recipes make themselves.

I blame the furious pace of contemporary fiction and the taste for such stuff on generations that were raised watching Sesame Street. If any kid’s show was designed to produce and then cater to hyperactivity it is Sesame Street. For those of us raised on Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street’s fevered pace is apoplectic.

Of course, there are those who disagree and they’re free to do so. As with anything, there is probably more than one cause. In addition to Sesame Street one could blame texting, with its abbreviations and clipped text.

Contemporary TV shows, playing to the Sesame Street generations, jump from scene to scene, throwing a tumult of disconnected storylines at the viewer that I often find it difficult to follow.

I know, I know, we baby boomers are dying off. Nobody gives a flying fig about what we think. But quite honestly, what’s the rush? Why do the pages have to turn themselves? Can’t I pause a moment and smell the fictional rose? Can’t we follow Simon and Garfunkel’s advice? “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” Seriously, night will come all too soon. Why rush it?

For me, a story is to savor. As with making friends, it takes time to get to know the characters and to decide if I want them for friends. So much of today’s writing is plot-driven tripe lacking in what makes life worth living: people, and beautiful things and experiences.

Just imagine if one of today’s thrilling writers were to write “Hills Like White Elephants”? The main characters would probably chug down their beers, and charge onto the train, without ever having a word of conversation. Yep, a fantastic story that.

I don’t want to bump and grind my way through a story. I want to savor it, like I do a cup of tea, or a plate of spaghetti with my favorite sauce, or a crumpet dripping with butter and orange marmalade.

For me, a slower paced story that is packed with suspense, and sprinkled with action, where I can grow to love the characters, and want to read more about them — that’s what I want to read.

I don’t want to read about cardboard people racing hell for leather through situation after situation that in the end I could not care less about.

Unfortunately, for me, what that means, practically speaking, is that entire genres and sub-genres are leaving my reading list. I even find myself abandoning contemporary fiction altogether, in favor of older books because the pacing is often slower, with a focus on building suspense and giving me a main character I care about.

Yes, I’m willing to admit I’m the odd man out. That I’m in the minority. Today’s majority wants herky-jerky story presentation and frantic action. But as P. F. Ford notes in his ads, if you want character and humor rather than blood and gore, then his books are for you.

Nice to know I am not alone.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 2

                             Mars vs Venus

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so it’s said. Mark Gungor’s “Tale of Two Brains” humorously describes this difference.

Last week, I began taking a look at these differences and how they affect fiction writers. I concluded with the idea that men who read fiction are the collateral damage of the contemporary fiction scene.

This week, I want to look deeper into the notion men don’t read fiction. Before I do, I’d like you to read two articles. They are excellent and describe the problem eloquently. The first is by Jason Pinter and the second is by Porter Anderson.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten the background material, let’s look at what those two men have to say about men and fiction and what the ramifications are for indies.

Big corporate publishers believe the maxim “Men Don’t Read”. Consequently they don’t publish for men or market towards men. As Pinter points out, when there aren’t many books on the market for men to read, they’re going to do something else with their time.

While Pinter excoriates Big Publishing concerning men and reading in general, Anderson focuses on fiction. Where the bias is even greater. In fact, Anderson’s statements regarding his own and men’s attitudes in general are supported by Kate Summers in her study. (Here’s a pdf version where the tables are visible.)

As Mark Gungor would say, men have a drawer labelled “fiction”. As writers, I think we need to fill it.

Since men prefer men authors (prefer is the operative word here), it seems only logical men should write for men; at least some of the time. But do they?

Hugh Howey’s protagonist in Wool is female.

Felix Savage’s protagonist in the first three books of his Sol System Renegades series is female, and a lesbian to boot.

Michael Anderle’s protagonist is female.

TS Paul’s protagonists are female.

The list can go on and on. If men readers say they prefer men writers and men main characters (as Summers notes in her article), why aren’t we men indie writers writing for them? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves.

Mark Dawson’s survey of his mailing list (some 60,000 persons at present), revealed that readers of his John Milton series are evenly split amongst men and women. Proving Summers’s survey to be spot on: while men favor men, women are much more eclectic in their reading preferences. As Mark Gungor notes: men are not as flexible as women; it has to do with how our brains work. And we all know men are lousy at multi-tasking.

Today’s cozy mystery field is, like romance, dominated by women. Women writers and women protagonists, with the requisite love story.

However, once upon a time men wrote cozies and with men as the protagonists. A few examples:

  • David Crossman with his Winston Crisp series.
  • William L DeAndrea’s Matt Cobb series.
  • Edmund Crispin and his Gervase Fen mysteries.

And there are others. Today, however, men have abandoned the field to women. Or perhaps the big corporate giants pushed the men out and indies followed suit.

Mark Coker’s Smashwords is heavily biased towards romance. From his own survey, half of his catalog consists of romance novels and 73% of the top 200 bestsellers on Smashwords are romance. It is well-known that Coker is cozy with romance writer organizations. Why? Perhaps he, too, believes men don’t read fiction. And wants to go where he thinks the money is.

It’s my desire to see us indies get out from under the publishing bias of the corporate giants and start catering to both sexes. After all, if half your potential market is men and the other half women, why not write for both? I mean, seriously, who wants just half a pie?

One way to do that is to have a man and woman as a dual protagonist. Men will go for the combo and so will women. Certainly a win-win to my thinking.

For cozy mysteries, the female amateur sleuth can hook up with a guy in the first book. And then in subsequent books, the two solve the crimes together. That would satisfy the romance part and would provide a strong draw for men readers.

The problem this attitude of everything for females in the fiction world causes for young men and boys is that they are turned off to reading. “It’s for girls.” “It’s for sissies.” And the drawer marked “Reading” remains closed. And perhaps never opens.

As Anderson points out in his article, ebooks just might be the best thing that could happen to men. We can read anonymously. Which is really what most of us men want. Yet, indie authors, who primarily publish ebooks, seem to be mainly writing for women. ‘Tis a pity.

Or perhaps indie men authors genuinely think men want to read about kick-ass hot women main characters. There might be some truth to that.

The pulp market of the 20s, 30s, and 40s certainly understood the power of a scantily-clad heroine being rescued by the hero. However, today’s writers seem to forget the hero. Adolescent boys and young men are into wish fulfillment. As Kate Summers notes, almost half of the men surveyed need to identify with the main character. If there is only the heroine, where is the wish fulfillment? If there isn’t any, the guys go elsewhere. Once again, reading is for the female of the species.

Independent authors are independent. We are the ones to buck the corporate giants and their preconceived notions. Unfortunately, the “get rich quick” crowd has flooded the indie field and lost somewhere in the quagmire is the male reader. Because we all know men don’t read fiction. BULL.

I have a friend who says he prefers non-fiction. Then he’ll go on and list novel after novel he’s read and asks if I’ve read it. He prefers non-fiction. Yeah, right.

The male reading public awaits. From grade school readers to us old guys. Give us books men can relate to.

One more example. Of the nine cozy mysteries I’ve recently read, all of the protagonists were women and three of the four writers were women. I enjoyed most of the books. They were light entertainment. Disposable reading.

I recently read a short story with a male protagonist, “01134” by Crispian Thurlborn. The story was profound. It was profound because mano a mano I saw something of myself in the main character and Thurlborn’s powerful writing made the experience alive. The story was “entertainment” in a philosophical, thought-provoking, and emotional manner. Definitely not disposable reading.

Indie writers, please don’t forget us men who love to read fiction. And there are a lot more of us than you think.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 1

                            Mars vs Venus

 

Quite honestly, I don’t know if women are from Venus and men, Mars. What I do know is that men and women look at the world differently. We can argue why this is until and even after the car is in the garage. The fact remains, the sexes see life from different perspectives. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

As a reader, as a male reader, I find I tend to gravitate towards certain types of books. And I am not just referring to genres here. I’m talking about characteristics. Such things as pacing, the amount of action, humor, violence, and sex.

A few months ago I referenced an article by Kate Summers, “Adult Reading Habits And Preferences In Relation To Gender Differences”. The article is informative and I think for the most part right on.

So I thought I’d revisit Ms Summer’s article and answer the questions she gave her survey participants. I dropped one of her questions and replaced it with one of my own. Here are the results (my answers are italicized):

1. How many books do you read in a year?

About two dozen or more.

2. Do you generally prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction.

3. What nonfiction topics interest you?

Airships, history, philosophy, cooking, ships.

4. Do you have any favorite genres you like to read?

Mysteries, science fiction, adventure, sea stories.

5. Do you read series books or do you prefer standalone books?

Series.

6. What are a few of your favorite books?

An Artist Of The Floating World, The Remains Of The Day, Seneca’s Letters, Earth Abides, Day Of The Triffids, On The Beach, Wingman.

7. Do you have any favorite magazines?

No.

8. Who are a few of your favorite authors?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Daniel Pinkwater, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard.

9. Do you typically prefer male authors or female authors?

Male authors.

10. Do you typically read books that feature male protagonists or female protagonists?

Male.

11. Were you encouraged to read when growing up?

Yes.

12. How do you choose books to read?

Subject, word of mouth, reviews.

13. Do you belong to a bookclub?

No.

14. Do you discuss books with your friends?

Not usually.

15. Are you an active member of any book related social networking sites?

No.

16. Do you own an ereader?

Yes.

17. In what format do you prefer to read, print or digital?

Doesn’t matter.

18. What kind of reading do you do online?

Nonfiction and research.

19. Do you become interested in reading a particular book if it is adapted into a movie or a TV series?

Not especially.

What I discovered is that my answers more or less fit in with those of fiction reading men. Good to know I’m normal, at least as far as reading is concerned.

In Kate Summers’s survey, women overwhelmingly preferred fiction to nonfiction. This may account for the perception amongst males that fiction reading is for “sissies”. And most males would rather die than be accused of being a sissy. Which may also account for men publicly declaring a preference for nonfiction.

I grew up in a family where reading was encouraged and my father read fiction. Consequently, fiction has always been part of my life and was nothing I was ashamed of. And I’m very glad for that.

Summers’s survey revealed women tend to be eclectic readers, having no preference overall for male or female protagonists or authors. On the other hand, a strong majority of men prefer male authors and male protagonists. This preference may be due to males more than females needing to identify with the characters. This was clearly seen in a survey of 11th grade boys and girls, where 43% of the boys compared to 35% of the girls cited needed to identify with the characters in a book.

Reading habits of men and women are important to writers — if the writer desires to write to a target audience.

Males tend to prefer action and humor. I discovered I’m a bit of an oddball in this regard as I don’t care for unrelenting and fast-paced action. I like action, but keep it to a few action scenes. I prefer plenty of non-action or little action and a whole lot of character development. Slowburn fiction is more my speed.

Females, on the other hand, tend to like romance and realistic fiction dealing with relationships.

As a writer, I find these preferences very interesting. It seems men tend to prefer plot-driven stories, with women preferring character-driven stories. Maybe that’s why men, for example, prefer thrillers (lots of action), whereas women prefer mysteries (especially cozies) where relationships and the characters’s personalities play a much larger role.

Every individual is, of course, unique. But generally speaking, it seems men and women form two different reader groups. What I see going on today amongst writers, both indie and traditionally published, is a catering to women readers at the expense of men. And this is taking place among both men and women writers.

The key to success, so we writers are told, no matter the genre or target audience (such as YA), is to have a kick-ass heroine. I think the underlying reason for this is the notion that in general men don’t read fiction. Which is, of course, not true. Men do read fiction. But men tend not to be social about their reading habits and therefore their reading choices generally don’t show up in surveys.

But we’ll save this part for next week, where we will examine the bias against men.

And if you are a man reading this post, please consider answering the questionnaire above that I took and put your answers in the comments.

Until next next time, happy reading!

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The Author Helper & ReaderLinks

One of the first things you’ll notice as an indie author is that there are hundreds of people and businesses all vying with each other for your money. Ostensibly they will tell you how to tap into the gold mine that is indie publishing.

Some are legit and others are simply in it for the money, that is to take your money and put it in their pockets. Some are authors who have made it big and want to share the secrets of their success. A portion of those will only sell the info to you. Others will give you free info, as well as sell more in-depth information.

It’s a jungle out there and it’s only getting worse.

Today, I want to introduce you to two guys who are successful authors (that means they make money) AND are interested in sharing their knowledge.

The Author Helper

John Logsdon and Ben Zackheim are two guys who write fiction and also want to share what they know with the indie community.

I ran across their website, The Author Helper, when I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course last year. The website has good information. You should check it out at the above link.

I also joined The Author Helper Facebook group, which I encourage you to join because it is a great community with a number of successful indie authors as members. There’s nothing like being with successful people to show you that, yes, you too can be successful.

ReaderLinks

For the past several months I’ve been part of a beta group testing the replacement for the Author Helper plugin. The plugin was great, but had limitations due to the vagaries of WordPress. John and Ben decided the way to go was to build a website subscription service that offered all the advantages of the plugin plus so much more.

I count myself very fortunate to be part of the beta testing team and can tell you that this is one fabulous tool for authors to manage the business side of our little empires.

You need a Sales Tracker? ReaderLinks has it.

Do you want universal book links? ReaderLinks has it.

Need Tweet management and automation? ReaderLinks has it.

Want one place to display all of your books? ReaderLinks has it.

Street team management? ReaderLinks has it.

And that’s not all! There is much, much more. Head on over to the ReaderLinks website. Watch the video, and then subscribe. It’s launching soon. Get in on the ground floor. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

ReaderLinks and The Author Helper are valuable aids to help us promote our books and put money in our pockets.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

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Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country

Superb indie writers abound. Many readers complain about the indie revolution and all the crappy books out there. Granted, there are a lot of crappy books being published. But they aren’t all indie. A very sizable portion of them come from the corporate giants on their never-ending quest for the next blockbuster.

Some of the best books I’ve read this year and last year were written by indie authors. And some of the worst books I’ve read last year and this year were published by the big corporations. In this day and age, who publishes a book is no guarantee of the book’s quality.

Last week, I reviewed indie author Agatha Frost, who writes contemporary cozy mysteries. This week, I want to take a look at cozy author T. E. Kinsey, who started out going indie and then accepted a publishing deal from Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint.

When I picked up a copy of A Quiet Life in the Country it was #1 on Amazon’s list of Bestselling Cozy Mysteries. That was on 2 July 17. As of yesterday (7 August), the book was #15. A long ride being in the top 20.

So what makes Kinsey’s 1908 aristocratic sleuth, Lady Hardcastle, so popular? To me the answer is simple: appealing characters, humor, and good storytelling.

The same combo that works for Agatha Frost, works for Mr Kinsey. In fact, it’s the same combo that pretty much works for every author or book I like.

The only downside to A Quiet Life In The Country is that the pacing tips towards the glacial. What saved the book for me was the humor. The jokes and puns and banter made the slow spots bearable.

The storyline is the same as in all mysteries. Lady Hardcastle and her servant, who is also her friend, have moved to the country after a life of adventure. And then they stumble across the body and then another.

Through a ruse they are allowed to work with the police detective. Eventually Lady Hardcastle and the detective solve the murders.

All pretty standard. Which is why character and humor are so important, as well as good storytelling — which turns the already familiar plot into something interesting.

Highly recommended! Get yourself a copy of A Quiet Life In The Country. You won’t be sorry.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Review: Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery Series

I’ll put this out front: I don’t like cozy mysteries — generally speaking.

That’s the qualifier: “generally speaking”. Exceptions abound and that is what makes life interesting. The syncopation that shakes up the rhythm of life.

And Agatha Frost has provided wonderful syncopation by creating a delightful amateur sleuth in Julia South, and a most enchanting village in Peridale.

So, if I don’t like cozies, why am I reading them in the first place? That’s a very good question and the answer, in a word, is research. Research? Yes, indeed. You see, I’m thinking of writing my own cozy mystery series and I thought I should read a few and see if I could stomach them enough to write my own.

I tried this decades ago with romance novels, found they darn near made me regurgitate, and gave up on the idea of writing the things.

To my utter surprise, Ms Frost provided me with entertaining read after entertaining read. I blew through the six novels she had published — pre-ordered the 7th, which has now been delivered to the Kindle app on my iPad. Amazon is already flying the “Bestseller” banner on the book and it’s only been out for 2 days.

What is it that Ms Frost does right? Again, in a word — characters. The Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series is filled with interesting and entertaining characters. There is, of course, Julia herself. She is such a dear. Very likable for the most part. Like most people. Then there’s her crazy (as in unorthodox) grandmother. Dot is the perfect comic relief. We also have Julia’s ward, Jessie, and Julia’s blossoming romance with Barker, the police detective. The banter between Barker and Julia and Barker and Jessie provides lots of laughs as well.

The characters are simply wonderful and so is the humor. Lots of humor. There are also the day to day goings on of small town life and the murders and the social commentary. All are combined into a recipe guaranteed to produce a few hours of satisfying entertainment.

And the things I detest about cozies — the police being bumbling idiots, the amateur sleuth being simply brilliant, and the constant meddling of the amateur in a police investigation and not getting herself arrested — are pretty much absent from Ms Frost’s tales. And that is refreshing.

Julia is a bit more savvy than Barker on the crime solving. But then she grew up in Peridale and Barker is an outsider, a big city guy, unfamiliar with small town dynamics. So I can accept her superior puzzle solving ability.

Ms Frost’s writing style is straight forward. Nothing fancy. The dialogue is realistic and the description just right. The books are on the short side: 48,000 words or less. Which suits me just fine. I’m getting too old for ponderous tomes, where I might die before I can finish the thing.

My only gripe is that her proofreader sucks. The constant use of “her” instead of “she” is very annoying. Julia South became Julia Smith for a brief moment in one book. And the other grammatical and typographical errors that are so obvious one wonders how they got missed.

Ms Frost’s saving grace is that she writes a truly fab story. Her writing lets me be forgiving of the less than stellar proofreading. But just barely. I’m very fussy when it comes to such obvious errors in such numbers.

So what did I learn about writing cozies from my experiment?

  • Make sure the main characters are interesting, as well as the important supporting cast.
  • Give the amateur sleuth a police connection (which we also see in TV mysteries such as Grantchester and Castle, for instance).
  • Humor. Lots of humor. Doesn’t have to be rolling on the floor belly laughs. Wit, whimsy, and amusing interactions work just fine.
  • Introduce the murder early on. Second or third chapter. We are reading a murder mystery after all.
  • The pacing doesn’t have to be fast. Character, humor, and the murder can hold sufficient interest. Which is fine with me. I don’t care all that much for these full-throttle thrillers. They’re usually light on character and heavy on the action, and for me that gets boring after a while.

On the marketing side, I noticed, since this is a culinary mystery, the covers all have food on them and are brightly colored. The titles are also alliterative and have a food theme as well.

I highly recommend Agatha Frost’s Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series. It’s a winner.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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To the Stars

Astounding Science Fiction August 1940 cover for Lester Del Rey’s “The Stars Look Down”

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.

The sentence translates to “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” It is line 437 of Seneca’s play Hercules Furens, and is spoken by Megara, the wife of Hercules, to Lycus, the tyrant who usurped her father’s throne.

The meaning is clear: there is no easy path to fame, to glory.

Recently Jackson Dean Chase posted a link to a blog article, “Stop ‘trying hard’ and produce more if you want to smash it as a writer”. The article could not have come at a more appropriate time for me.

In brief, the article notes that creative people have no concept of the quality or value of their own work. In fact, a creative’s own estimation is often at odds with that of the public.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hatred of Sherlock Holmes immediately comes to mind. He thought the great detective frivolous and the stories not at all great literature. Yet history has proven him wrong. Of the vast number of novels and stories that Doyle wrote, it is Holmes who is associated with Doyle’s name and by which he’s remembered.

George Frederic Handel loved Italian opera and continued to write and produce operas for a London audience that no longer wanted them. He ended up bankrupt and in ill health. Forced by circumstances, he turned to English oratorio and wrote Messiah. Which by the way was hated by the librettist because Handel produced the sacred drama in concert halls!

Handel did learn his lesson and milked Messiah for every shilling and pound he could get from it.

HG Wells thought his greatest work was the world history he wrote. Today, no one knows he wrote one.

I observe my fellow writers frantically following one success guru after another in the attempt to become bestselling authors. They look like sheep in search of a shepherd. Like parrots, they repeat the supposed mantras of success over and over. Usually without giving them any thoughtful consideration.

Every now and then, I find myself caught up in the stampede until a friend graciously pulls me back to reality. It’s easy to follow the crowd. After all that’s what lemmings do when they run over the cliff into the sea.

Seneca is right. The path to the stars is not an easy one. Why? Because there is no easy formula to follow. There is no one how-to manual that works for everyone.

No one knows how a bestseller is born. No one.

What does that mean for us writers? Quite simply, it means we must write. And write a lot. Write until that bestseller is discovered.

Margaret Mitchell is very much the exception and not the rule. In spite of us writers wanting to make her the rule.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and probably had a hand in at least 10 others. But how many can we even name? Let alone the number that are regularly produced?

Because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success, there is no external help for us writers. As Rainer Maria Rilke noted, there is no one outside of ourselves who can give us strength, encouragement, and support. It is all inside. We must look inside ourselves for what we need to succeed.

Of all that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote (and he wrote a lot), the one character that stands out is Tarzan. The same for Lester Dent. He wrote hundreds of books and stories. His name, however, is forever tied to Doc Savage.

Handel wrote 42 operas and 29 oratorios (amongst many other works). Mention his name and everyone says, Messiah.

Burroughs did not set out to become famous by writing Tarzan. Nor Dent, Doc Savage. Nor Handel, Messiah. It was the public who decided what would be their claim to fame.

Because we writers, and creatives in general, are very bad at predicting our own greatest work, our only recourse is to write lots and give it to the public and let them decide.

In my own case, I expected Festival Of Death, with my private detective Justinia Wright (who I dearly love), to be my “bestseller”. Imagine my surprise when The Morning Star, the initial book in my post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe series, has to date, outsold Festival of Death by an almost 5 to 1 margin.

Never in a million years would I have guessed that to have happened. So my writer friends, keep writing. The public will find your best book for you. That is one thing you don’t have to worry about. Just write and trust your public.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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What’s in a Cover?

Of late, I’ve had several of my fellow writers tell me my book covers don’t reflect the genre, or they need a bit of work, or that they could be better — more like the top selling indies in the genre.

All of that may be true and may be part of the reason I’m not rolling in the dough after 3 years of being an independent author-publisher.

So I’ve been having myself a major think. Significantly enough, the above comments came on the heels of my having listened to the two modules in Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula 101 course on covers and blurb writing.

Mark Dawson’s cover designer and artist, Stuart Bache, in the module on covers noted there are two different approaches to book covers: genre similar and genre standout. If you take a look on Amazon or even a walk through a bookstore, you’ll quickly see what is most popular. Genre similar. Why?

Because people are in a hurry, as the thinking goes, and what a genre similar cover does is tell the potential reader this is a sci-fi novel or a romance or a mystery or a thriller. Then other factors begin to influence. Title. Author name. Blurb.

However, if I’m specifically looking for a science fiction novel, a genre similar cover does nothing for me because I already know I’m looking for science fiction. I’m standing in the science fiction section of the bookstore. Or I searched for science fiction on Amazon. I think that is something that’s important to keep in mind.

Bryan Cohen, who presented the module on blurb writing, said that Mark Dawson’s own survey of his readers, asking what actually got them to buy the book, said it was the blurb — by a 5 to 1 margin — over the cover. Why? Because Dawson’s covers are all genre similar. There is nothing to distinguish his covers from any other author’s in the genre.

As a reader, not a writer, but as a reader, what do I look for when I’m looking to buy a book? Me. Not some survey, or industry standard. Me. What do I look for? After all, I’m the reader I know best.

I think that is an important question to ask. So I expanded my think to include the actions I went through to buy my last few books. And what I came up with for me is:

Unless the cover is truly a standout cover, it’s the title that draws my attention. Or the author’s name. When looking at the search results.

I haven’t been in a brick and mortar bookstore in quite awhile, so I limited myself to how I go about looking for a book on Amazon. This is the procedure I came up with for how I, a 64-year old guy, looks for a book to buy. Keep in mind younger men may do things differently, as most likely do women.

  1. I select the Kindle store.
  2. I key in the genre or sub-genre I want to read.
  3. I scan the search results.
  4. I pick a book.
  5. I read the blurb.
  6. I take a look at the reviews.
  7. If I’m still interested, I “Look Inside”.
  8. If still interested, I buy the book.

Those are the steps. Now let’s look at an example.

At step 2, I keyed in “private investigator mystery series”.

The results I got — minus cozies that got in there and box sets and sponsored ads — were the following in order on the first page:

The Mystery of the Secret Parents – Dan Taylor

 

 

 

Easy Prey – Dan Ames

 

 

 

Murder with Sarcastic Intent – Dan Ames

 

 

 

The Observer – T. Patrick Phelps

 

 

 

The Kill List – David Archer

 

 

 

Haggard Hawk – Douglas Watkinson

 

 

 

Tackling Death – Bud Craig

 

 

 

Double Fake, Double Murder – Dallas Gorham

 

 

 

Hidden Agenda – David Archer

 

 

 

After scanning the list, I ruled out Murder with Sarcastic Intent because the cover hurts my eyes, it’s that garish to me.

From the thumbnails, you can see genre similar prevails. What caught my eye was the first book: The Mystery of the Secret Parents. The cover is somewhat standout, the colors catching my eye. It doesn’t convey genre very well, but then I already know it’s a mystery because that is what I searched for. The title is a good mystery title. Not thrillerish. Just a good old-fashioned mystery.

So I clicked on the book and read the blurb, which was okay. So I looked at the reviews. There were some that threw up red flags for me, but I decided to “Look Inside”. Once I did, I said, Nope. Not for me. Back to step 3.

The only other book on the page of search results that caught my eye was Dallas Gorham’s Double Fake, Double Murder. The cover was a traditional murder mystery cover, which is what I like. The title conveyed the same idea, so I took a closer look.

The blurb didn’t particularly grab me. Too much selling in it. The reviews, though, were pretty good, so I took a “Look Inside”. Sad to say, I wasn’t impressed, and passed on the book.

Analyzing my process, I came to the conclusion that for me — genre similar covers without an eye-catching title — don’t pull me in from the search page. Notice, I passed on Dan Ames’s book with the genre similar cover and lackluster title. Which was the second book on the list.

What caught my eye, were the two covers that were somewhat different. With the title being the clincher.

If a standout cover and a snappy title are what catch my attention on the Amazon search page — where I’m already  looking for a genre specific book — then why would I want to put boring genre similar covers on the books I write? I think the answer is obvious: I don’t.

To my mind where all of this genre appropriate cover advice goes south is that I’m not looking at a mix of genres and trying to find the genre I like. Which the cover would identify for me. I’ve already passed by that step by searching specifically for the genre I want to read. No one seems to have grasped that.

Now the danger in having too standout of a cover, is it can turn people off. As did Ames’s Murder with Sarcastic Intent.

Circling back around, as I’ve noted in previous posts, there is a lot of group think that goes on with people. There is a lot of thinking invading self-publishing that comes from traditional publishing. Which may be appropriate for the Big Corporate types, but not for us indies.

Even when I regularly visited bookstores and looked at books on a self, I went to the genres I wanted to read. And I passed by all the genre similar covers, unless they had a standout title, or a familiar author name, and picked up the book with the standout cover.

So are my covers hurting my sales? It’s possible. Or is some other factor at play here? Such as my doing virtually no advertising?

I’m inclined to think the virtually no advertising may be the actual culprit here, not the covers.

Of course the only way to know for sure is to do a test. Slap a few genre similar covers on my books, do nothing else, and see if I get better sales results. That test I’m considering. It might prove to be very interesting.

As always, your comments are very much welcome. If you’re inclined, take a look at my Amazon page and see if you think my covers are a problem. If you think they are, let me know. I genuinely want to know. But do look at them as I did above, in a long list of books in the same genre. Just so we keep things the same.

Until next time, happy reading!

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